Steels leaps her way into nationals on first day of NCAA East Region Preliminaries

JACKSONVILLE, Florida – NCAA Indoor long jump champion Jasmyn Steels had the best series of any of the 48 competitors in her event Thursday on the first day of the NCAA East Preliminary Round track and field championships, posting the day’s second-best mark to reinforce the Northwestern State junior’s status as a contender for the NCAA Outdoor crown in two weeks.

She soared from the middle of the pack after her first attempt to solidly take position to claim one of the 12 national meet qualifying slots with a fifth-place 20-2 ½ leap on her second of three attempts. Steels improved on her final jump, going 20-5, averaging 20-0 ¼ in her series, best by anyone in the field at Hodges Stadium on the campus of the University of North Florida.

Jogaile Petrokaite of Florida State took the top spot at 20-8. Steels will have an opportunity to qualify in two events on Saturday at 5:30 (CST) when she enters the triple jump ranked 24th in the East.

“I did my job to get to nationals,” said Steels. “Of course I was nervous, but I was confident I could hit some good jumps in and get it done.”

“Jasmyn had an OK day for her, but did what she needed to do to advance,” said head coach Mike Heimerman. “That is an awesome thing.”

“Jasmyn did what was expected and we’re on to the next round,” said her jumps coach, Tyronn Stewart.

While Steels was expected to advance with 11 other East qualifiers to the 24-woman field in the long jump June 6 at the NCAA Outdoors in Austin, Texas, there was simply hope that two-time senior sprint All-American Micah Larkins could compete Thursday evening in the 100 meter dash opening round. It didn’t happen.

After he felt some discomfort during warmups in his hamstring, which was injured May 5 at the Southland Conference Championships, Larkins was shut down by his coaches, Heimerman and associate head coach Adam Pennington, and did not start.

The prudent but agonizing decision ended Larkins’ remarkable NSU career. Since he did not start in the 100, meet rules prevent him from running Saturday in the 4×100 meter relay qualifying. Larkins has been part of quartets that finished 15th (2016) and seventh (last year) at the national meet.

The Princeton native, a Haughton High product, ends his Demons career as a six-time Southland Champion with two school records — in the 4×100 relay (38.92 in the 2018 NCAA semifinals by Kie’Ave Harry, Larkins, Amir James and Tre’Darius Carr), and in the 100, with a record tying 10.12 winning last year’s Southland title.

“Micah has been doing everything in his power to get healthy and tried hard until the last minute before we said ‘no,’ “ said Heimerman. “He’s got a future in this sport professionally. Coach Pennington will rehab him and they’ll train for the USA Outdoors at the end of June.”

NSU’s other highly-accomplished sprinter, Lady Demon junior Natashia “Speedy” Jackson, advanced to the 400 meter national quarterfinals/region finals Friday at 4:30 by automatically qualifying in the opening round Thursday evening. Her 53.65 was good for third in her heat, moving her among the 24 surviving, and approaching her 53.49 school record.

“Speedy had a great day,” said Heimerman. “Running like that out of lane one was awesome.”

Along with the 400, Jackson has two more opportunities to qualify for nationals. She runs in the opening round of the 200 Friday at 6:30, hoping to reach Saturday’s region finals, and is part of the Lady Demons’ 4×100 relay Saturday at 5 alongside Ona Giles, Kimani Evans and Marjorie Thompson.

In the men’s long jump, Southland Conference champion JaCourious Jeter couldn’t improve on his pre-meet 18th-ranking, recording an 18th-place finish with a leap of 24-1½ in his final collegiate competition. Sophomore Markeit Steverson Jr. came in 36th with a distance of 23-0 ¾.

“JaCorious had a decent day where he came in ranked 18th and left ranked 18th, said Heimerman. “His last jump would have been great if he didn’t let his hips drop on the takeoff.”

Ranked 14th entering the competition, Lady Demon senior Kelsey Frank had a difficult day in the javelin throw, recording a best of 140-6 on her second attempt to place 38th. The Oberlin product ends her career as a two-time Southland champion, a four-time regional qualifier and as the school record holder with a throw of 168-5 April 20 at the LSU Alumni Gold meet topping a 20-year-old standard.

“Kelsey warmed up hard, but when it came time, she just tried too hard and it didn’t work out,” said Heimerman, who coaches NSU’s throwers. “Unfortunately, she pressed on two throws because she hit so bad. When you try and force a technical event, it usually doesn’t end well.

“I’m proud of all the seniors that put on an NSU jersey for the last time today,” said Heimerman. “I know it didn’t go the way they wanted, but it wasn’t for lack of effort.

“I thank all three (Frank, Jeter and Larkins) of these student-athletes. They all received degrees this past week,” said Heimerman. “Collectively, they earned All-American status (Larkins), broke school records (Frank and Larkins) and racked up numerous conference titles.”

While Larkins didn’t step into the blocks in the 100 opening round, Carr posted a 10.59 to finish 36th. The sophomore from Jackson will compete in the 200 first round Friday at 6:55 and as part of the 4×100 relay on Saturday at 5:15 alongside Javin Arrington, Eddie Clarke and Tremayne Flagler, the alternate replacing Larkins.

“Tre’ stumbled on his sixth step and that basically took him out of the race,” said Heimerman.

Lauren Clarke entered the high jump competition Thursday ranked last (48th) in the field but came out with a 40th-place improvement, clearing 5-5.

Friday’s schedule for NSU will feature Jackson’s action and Flagler, the Southland Conference champion in the 110 hurdles opening round at 4. The Atlanta, Georgia, native enters the field of 48 ranked 19th in the East with a time of 13.87.

Also competing Friday at 4 is the Lady Demons’ pole vaulting duo of Reagan Darbonne (28th, 13-3 ½) and Annemarie Broussard (46th, 13-1).